State's erratic response to abortion creating 'climate of shame' - report
JAMIE SMYTH Social Affairs Correspondent The Irish Times January 29th 2010
THE GOVERNMENT’S erratic and divisive response to the abortion issue has contributed directly to the violation of women’s human rights and increased risks to their health, a human rights watchdog has claimed in a new report.
Human Rights Watch also accused the State yesterday of creating a “climate of fear and shame” that has deepened the emotional trauma and despair felt by tens of thousands of Irish women with crisis pregnancies.
A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland calls for the immediate decriminalisation of abortion for women and the development of a new national regulatory framework to guarantee access to legal abortion.
“Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and, frankly, human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation. But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised and written out,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
She said the Government “actively sabotaged women’s health” by not allowing women to access abortion services in the Republic and aggressively discouraging them from seeking the care they need abroad.
“The Irish Government is complicit in the distress they feel. In other words, the Government contributes directly to undermining women’s health dignity and human rights,” said Ms Mollmann, who added that preventing women from having abortions in a timely manner could have a detrimental effect on their health.
Human Rights Watch said it sought interviews with senior people in Government about the report but these were refused.
A letter sent by the secretary general of the Department of Justice Sean Aylward to Human Rights Watch while compiling its report suggested there would be no change in policy on abortion.
“Ireland has held five separate referenda on three separate occasions on this issue. I am not aware of any proposal to put this issue before the people again,” wrote Mr Aylward in a handwritten addition to a standard reply letter.
The Human Rights Watch report called on the Government to ensure “truthful and objective” information on abortion is available to all women and to take action against “rogue” agencies that disseminate misleading information to pregnant women.
The report was compiled following interviews with 13 Irish women who had abortions abroad. One woman described how she attended a crisis pregnancy agency called British Alternatives, which had been advertised in the Golden Pages. She said the agency first asked about the possibility of adoption and then left her to watch a video of an ultrasound of a baby. She was then asked how she would feel if she “killed the baby”.
Anti-abortion campaigners said the claims made by Human Rights Watch were ridiculous. “Seeking to protect both mother and baby during pregnancy is not a violation of any human right. In fact it is the complete opposite,” said Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro-Life Campaign. “Human Rights Watch cannot credibly claim to be a human rights organisation while at the same time denying the rights of unborn children throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy.”